With the Christian Holy Week upon us, The List this week looks at the top 12 Christian-themed films to watch and enjoy. As a side note, earlier this month, History (formerly the History Channel) began airing "The Bible" series which was seen by 13.1 million when the first episode ran March 3 and has had huge ratings since.
- 12. "Mary, Mother of Jesus" (1999) — Quite a number of big name actors starred in this NBC-TV film, including Christian Bale as Jesus of Nazareth, Pernilla August as Mary and Geraldine Chaplin as Elizabeth. The film was produced by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy and emphasizes Mary's importance in Jesus' life.
- 11. "Chariots of Fire" (1981) — This stunning film focuses on the intersecting athletic careers of Jewish Cambridge student Harold Abrahams and Scotsman Eric Liddell, who went on to be a missionary in China. Liddell refused to run a heat in the 100-meter race because the race was scheduled on a Sunday, which his faith taught him would violate the Sabbath. He went on to win the 400-meter race, a run he had not trained for. The film is also the last G-rated movie to win the Oscar for best picture and is the best film made about the Olympics.
- 10. "Brother Sun and Sister Moon" (1972) — Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, this underrated, enchanting and lush film, portrayed the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the son of a wealthy textile merchant who renounces all his worldly possessions to live an ascetic life. British singer Donovan wrote and sang all the songs in the film.
- 9. "Song of Bernadette" (1943) — The film is based on the story of 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous who saw visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 at Lourdes. Jennifer Jones, who was nominated for Academy Awards five times in her career, won the Oscar for best actress for her portrayal of the saintly girl.
- 8. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005) — This grand-scale, highly acclaimed fantasy film based on C.S. Lewis' Christian allegory was hugely successful. According to Box Office Mojo it is the second-highest grossing religious themed-film of all time, earning more than $291 million. Set during World War II, "Narnia" follows four London schoolchildren hiding out from Germany's aerial bombardment at an old professor's home.
- 7. "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928) — Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent, fascinating and forbidding masterpiece, tells the story of Joan of Arc, a 15th-century French peasant girl who hears voices telling her to lead a mission to throw out the English. Joan, played by Renee Falconetti, faces inquisition, torture and ultimately the stake. Her performance is one of the finest in cinema history. The film is one of the last great silent pictures before the talkies took over. It is the top-ranked film on the Arts and Faith 2011 list.
- 6. "Passion of the Christ" (2004) — This powerful and controversial film directed by Mel Gibson and spoken in Aramaic, focused on the re-enactment of the arrest, abuse and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jim Caviezel is a stirring choice as Jesus but the graphic depictions of Jesus' torture and Crucifixion at the hands of Roman soldiers are hard to watch. The film reportedly grossed more than $600 million worldwide and $370 million in domestic box-office grosses.
- 5. "The Gospel According to Matthew" (1964) — Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini retells the story of Jesus from the Nativity to the Resurrection based on Matthew's Gospel. Most of the actor's were nonprofessionals but the film enjoyed good reviews and is ranked No. 7 in the Arts and Faith's Top 100 Films.
- 4. "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977) — Blue-eyed British actor Robert Powell became an international star overnight portraying Jesus in this epic British-Italian television miniseries directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Mr. Powell brought an eloquence to the role in his naturalistic approach, presenting Jesus as more or less evenly divine and human. This star-studded film, including Laurence Olivier, Rod Steiger, Anne Bancroft and James Mason, just to name a few, won an Emmy and other awards in Britain.
- 3. "Babette's Feast" (1987) — This brilliant Danish film is not only the most mouth-watering movie ever made but a delicate story about sacrifice and faith. Two pious, unmarried sisters on the remote coast of Denmark take a political refugee from France into their home. The refugee, a former world-class chef, later repays their kindness by devoting her winnings from a lottery to creation of a sumptuous feast. The film won the Oscar for best foreign language film and is No. 2 on the Vatican's list of top religious films.
- 2. "Quo Vadis" (1951) — This epic was based on the 1885 historical novel of the same name by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz that depicts the suffering of Christians under Rome from 64 to 68 AD. Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr take the lead roles, but Peter Ustinov as a pouty-lipped, pathetically capricious and nasty Nero, steals the show, which earned him an Oscar nomination. The film holds a record for the most costumes used in one movie: 32,000.
- 1. "Ben Hur" (1959) — The novel "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ," about a galley slave turned charioteer was published in 1880 and soon became one of the most influential Christian books of the 19th century. It was immortalized in film by Charlton Heston in William Wyler's 1959 Oscar-winning film that won a record 11 Oscars, including best-actor for Heston.
Compiled by John Haydon
Sources: The Washington Times, Wikipedia and The Associated Press
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